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His Dark Materials drops a dramatic reveal, but you probably already knew it (newbies)

Image: Alex Bailey, HBO
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So was anyone surprised by the big Mrs. Coulter reveal here? In a show in which a lot of things are pretty confusing, that had been telegraphed heavily ever since Mrs. Coulter popped up on the scene, and then acted very very weird around Lyra.

It’s not clear how much it changes for Lyra herself, especially coming so soon on the heels of the information that Asriel is her father, which had a lot more emotional resonance, since she had an existing relationship with him. This is only the third episode! Why make any of this a big secret if it all gets shared immediately? If it was always this easy for Lyra to figure out who her parents really are, why didn’t it happen before now? Ma Costa says it was a huge scandal that affected Mrs. Coulter for years. Wouldn’t the people around Lyra have known this and, intentionally or not, passed it on to her?

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And since things keep happening around Lyra to move the plot forward, she’s stuck having one big moment of reaction to them before moving on to whatever’s happening next. She met her mom, who refused to admit her own identity while simultaneously outing her father in a traumatic way, and then abused her, and then somehow that’s kind of it. Despite what should be an earth-shattering revelation here, it just kind of lies there as a new piece of information, and then not a lot of other new developments happen within the episode. People have brought up “the north” repeatedly as a possibility for where the kids are, but somehow the main characters don’t leave to go to “the north” (a plot requirement for every HBO fantasy series, apparently) until the very end of the episode.

Instead, there was a lot of hanging around and waiting. Lyra’s heavily de-centered this episode, while a series of people take actions that don’t move the plot forward too much. We got more of a sense of what Lord Boreal is doing in the other world—trying to track down the exact same person Asriel is interested in, the newly revealed John Parry (yes, it’s the Hot Priest from Fleabag), who never belonged in Lyra’s world. But mostly he walks around slowly and menacingly, and has semi-sexually charged interactions with the man who’s doing research for him.

And Tony and Benjamin go on a somewhat pointless spy mission to Mrs. Coulter’s apartment that doesn’t get them much new information. It’s unclear at this point if Lyra isn’t telling the gyptians about the machine she saw blueprints for because she doesn’t trust them. But because she told Farder Coram about the alethiometer, it would make sense for her to share details of the scary machine, no? And Benjamin and Tony’s failure to fully debrief Lyra before going to Mrs. Coulter’s home leads directly to Benjamin’s death. The whole thing feels a little half-developed. If this was so important that the two of them are disobeying John Faa to go on this mission, why didn’t they do more to improve their chances of success?

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The whole thing just feels a bit tenuously tied together right now. There’s the constant sense that things are happening because they have to, not because of an actual organic plot development. Everyone needs to go to the north, but not yet? OK, here’s some hanging around on the riverways.

Ruth Wilson’s Mrs. Coulter remains a highlight, and because we’re already aware that she has a pretty damaged psyche, the revelation of her maternity plays a lot more smoothly. The show continues to struggle with how to express what daemons represent to people—Lyra’s whole conversation with Farder Coram about it is clunky as hell—but it’s riveting to watch Mrs. Coulter and the monkey interact (or, more often, to watch the monkey try to interact with her). The effects team has also done an impressive animation job on the monkey, which has an incredibly expressive face. The scene of the monkey panicking while she walked on the building ledge was genuinely suspenseful and concerning, whereas other scenes intended to be tense tend to struggle. You might not have thought the cops were going to find Lyra hidden on the boat, but you were probably worried for the monkey in that rooftop scene.

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But at least we’ve finally left London, and Lyra’s found some degree of peace with the gyptians, some of whom still seem a little ambivalent about her presence. And hey, it’s not like she has any additional parents to reveal.


Stray observations

  • It is a bold move to have both Lin-Manuel Miranda and Andrew Scott on your show and not have them appear in the first three episodes.
  • Why do the gyptians let the other driver go when they find Lyra? This is also another moment where the show deflates tension as soon as it starts. The prior episode ended on a cliffhanger, and then Lyra escaped capture immediately.
  • Come on, how did Boreal get the boot off of that car?
  • How is Mrs. Coulter going to get any information out of the little robot bug? It’s not like she can upload it to the mainframe or something.
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About the author

Lisa Weidenfeld

Contributor, The A.V. Club. Lisa is a writer and editor based in Cambridge, Massachusetts.